Shaking up the status quo in L.A. schools

Nov 6, 2011 by

A disparate alliance called Don’t Hold Us Back is calling on L.A. Unified and the teachers union to lay down their weapons in contract negotiations and hammer out some big-ticket reforms.

Six million, give or take. That’s how many children are in public school in California.

Arguably, we won’t have a strong economic future if they don’t get a good education.

But boy, do the grown-ups love to muck things up for the kids.

Politics, ego, endless skirmishes between school districts and teacher unions — it all gets in the way of the kids’ best interests. And California spends less per pupil than all but a few states when you adjust for regional cost-of-living differences, leading to an annual ritual of laying off thousands of teachers and other staffers.

But in Los Angeles, the status quo is under attack.

Parents and education advocates are suing L.A. Unified in an effort to enforce an overlooked state law that requires teacher and principal evaluations to be linked to student achievement.

Meanwhile, a phalanx of parents, advocates and organizations, including the United Way, is demanding that L.A. Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles lay down their weapons in current contract negotiations and hammer out some big-ticket reforms. Doing so, of course, would require changes UTLA has militantly resisted.

The movement is calling itself Don’t Hold Us Back, suggesting it’s ready for a fight. And because it includes organizations and people who have seldom been fans of unions, critics say it’s all a conspiracy to privatize public schools for personal gain. But the alliance also includes groups that have traditionally backed UTLA.

So alongside bankers and lawyers and big business, you’ve got the Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Community Coalition, to name a few. On Oct. 24, the group sent a letter to L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, UTLA leader Warren Fletcher and L.A. Unified board members, demanding reforms for the sake of the district’s 700,000 students.

“We recognize student test scores have been increasing incrementally over the last few years,” said the letter. “However, incremental advances are simply not enough. When only 56% of our students graduate from high school in four years, we are failing close to half of our kids and consigning them to a life of poverty.”

The rabble-rousers want to give more power to schools to make their own decisions on curriculum and hiring, with guarantees that parents and staff at failing schools can opt to turn things over to charter organizations or other alternative operators. They want quality, rather than just seniority, to be considered in personnel moves. They want student achievement to be a part of teacher evaluations, with professional development provided for instructors who need it and higher pay for more effective teachers.

OK, I have trouble disagreeing with much of that, and Supt. Deasy himself has been angling for those kinds of changes. But we’ve heard reformers call for a new day more than once, with nothing to show for it. So will things really be different this time? It’s hard to see how anyone can make much of a difference unless California climbs out of the basement in education funding.

via Shaking up the status quo in L.A. schools – latimes.com.

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